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Muhanji, Cherry (1939-)



  • Existence: 1939-


Writer, mother, activist, lesbian, Cherry Muhanji embodied the term 'non-traditional' student. Muhanji, whose adopted name is a combination of the surnames of her spouses, was born Jannette Washington in Detroit on April 26, 1939. At the age of 14, reading Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Bells" inspired in her a lifelong passion for the written word. Muhanji married her first husband at nineteen, mothered four sons (Abram, Wardene, David and Tracy) and spent eighteen years working for a telephone company. She began her formal education in 1985 at the age of 46, when she matriculated at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate. After earning her BS in General Studies, Muhanji went on to earn an MA from the African American World Studies Program, followed by an Interdisciplinary PhD in 1997 with a focus on English, African American Studies and Anthropology. All of her degrees are from the University of Iowa.

Muhanji's first book Tight Spaces (1987) was co-authored with her niece Kesho Scott (also a University of Iowa alumna) and their friend Egyirba High. The work which Muhanji has referred to as "the family laundry," began as Muhanji's response to an essay written by Scott at a time when the two were estranged. High's contribution to the book is a response to Muhanji's and Scott's work. Tight Spaces won the 1988 Before Columbus American Book Award. The last chapter of Tight Spaces laid the groundwork for Muhanji's next book, the novel Her (1990), winner of two 1991 Lambda Literary Awards: the Lesbian Debut category and the Ferro-Grumley Award for outstanding works of fiction on lesbian and gay life.

After earning her PhD in 1997 Muhanji taught at several institutions including the University of Minnesota and Goddard College in Vermont. Noticing a lack of writing and thinking skills in her college pupils, Muhanji later earned a certificate so she could also teach and mentor students in junior high and high school.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Cherry Muhanji papers

Identifier: IWA0366

Writer, lesbian activist, and University of Iowa alumna.

Dates: 1984-2006